The quest and need to teach our children sportsmanship has come and reared its ugly head again this past week in my family. My youngest son who is now 10 was playing in a football game over the weekend. After he scored a touchdown and the play was completely over, an opposing player hit him in the back while running at full speed. I thought for sure my son was going to retaliate since he does have a “small temper” and it was uncalled for. However, chalk one up to a proud parenting moment; my son got back up, turned around, looked the boy in the eye, shook his head and walked off the field.
My wife and I have been teaching sportsmanship for quite some time. She and I are very competitive and I learned while dating her that she “takes no prisoners” while playing cards. We played gin rummy early in our courtship while visiting my 89 year old grandmother. Although I was playing to keep the game interesting, my wife went for the throat. When my grandmother left the room I asked, “What are you doing she is 89?” Her response was, “She’s 89, she knows how to lose.”
Fortunately, my wife has not been as competitive while raising our children, but they of course did not win every game of Candyland either. It is hard concept for young children to learn that things may not go their way and how to handle it when it does occur. We have three rules when competing at cards, board games and sports:
1) No crying. If this rule is broken, you have to sit out the rest of the game.
2) After losing one does not get to hang their head and mope. It’s just a game.
3) You are always gracious after a win. You thank and congratulate your opponent for a game well played. You do not tease or gloat, especially with your siblings/family.
I asked my son on the way home from the football game why he had reacted the way he did after getting hit. I will remember his response for a long time. He said, “Dad, mom taught me that people get angry when things do not go as planned and I think he was frustrated that I had scored. I did not like him hitting me, but I did not want a yellow flag thrown against me. Coach hates yellow.”
It’s never too early to teach children “sportsmanship” but always remember that you need to balance the art of winning and losing. A child cannot learn to lose well if they are never allowed to experience those emotions and process them. However, “letting them win” from time to time (or most of the time) helps keep their attention and makes them want to come back and play again.